All discarded materials, including biodegradable products, end up in landfills as garbage. To understand what happens to biomaterials once discarded as trash, it’s important to understand how the process of biodegradation occurs.
Biodegradable products are made from organic materials that are broken down by living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. These materials are broken down with the aid of oxygen (aerobically) or without oxygen (anaerobically). As biomaterials break down, the nutrients are absorbed by the soil, boosting the soil’s nutrient profile in the process.
This process of biodegradation would have reduced trash if it weren’t for the fact that landfills are so full of garbage that the breakdown of biomaterials could not occur.
Why Biomaterials do not Break Down in Landfills
In an ideal setting, the biomaterials must be exposed in an oxygen-filled space to breakdown. Unfortunately, landfills are so packed tight with garbage that there is not enough oxygen to start the biodegradation process. And in landfills that do have room for biodegradation, the process starts too slowly because of the tons of garbage that’s piled up above it every day.
Apart from the lack of oxygen, most landfills do not have much soil and only a few microorganisms to break biodegradable materials down. One study found that 25-year-old hot dogs, corncobs, and grapes are still left intact and recognizable in landfills. The same study also found that piles of 50-year-old newspapers are still intact in many landfills, proof that biodegradable products are piling up as trash just like plastic products.
Contaminated Biodegradable Products
What adds to this problem is that some biomaterials are contaminated with petroleum products. Microbes and enzymes cannot recognize these materials as biodegradable, thus inhibiting the facilitation of biodegradation.
Biodegradable items like paper plates are often lined with plastic films to prevent food from absorbing into the material. Since these products are not recognized by microorganisms as biodegradable, plastic-lined paper plates have to be processed first or they’ll be left sitting in landfills for decades. Unfortunately, processing these plates involves peeling off the plastic coating, which requires a specialized machine that some facilities do not have. This makes the recycling process more complicated and costlier. If you think that you are saving the earth by using lined paper plates, you’re doing the exact opposite.
What About Photodegradable Materials?
Photodegradable products are made from materials that biodegrade when exposed to sunlight. Polybags, which are made from plastic photodegradable material, is an example of such a product. While the photodegradable products are more eco-friendly compared to conventional plastics, there is no guarantee that the discarded materials are exposed to sunlight all day.
Part of the reason why biodegradable products are not breaking down in landfills is the lack of exposure to the right elements. Photodegradable products that are buried deep within landfills cannot break down because of the lack of sun exposure.
Some experts are also doubting the ability of photodegradable materials to break down when they are exposed to sunlight. Even if photodegradable materials do break down once exposed to UV rays, they will still affect the environment because these materials are turned into microplastics.
Microplastics are currently making their way into the food chain because smaller animals ingest these materials. Predatory marine animals eat smaller marine animals, consuming the microplastics too. As a result, marine animals continue to die because of the plastic materials that end up in the oceans.
How Compostable Disposables Help Minimize Trash
Zero Energy Used for Disposal
Backyard compostable disposables do not require energy for proper disposal. These products do have to be incinerated or processed in landfills at all. Simply bury them into the soil or add to your compost and you are done. Single-use plastic products, on the other hand, have to be processed for recycling or incineration – a process that causes air pollution.
Recycling is still one of the best ways to extend the life span of a product and minimize waste. Discarded compostable plates can be processed for recycling too. Usually, these products are made from wood material, which can be repurposed. Compostable disposables are designed to be processed together with food waste and this eliminates the need for sorting. That being said, never mix compostable disposables with other recycled products, turn these over to a composting facility for proper processing. If you mix compostable disposables with other recyclable materials, they will contaminate the recycling process.
No Harmful Chemicals
Although paper cups and plates are more eco-friendly compared to plastic products, they are treated with chemicals that could harm the environment or affect human health. For starters, some paper disposables are lined with a wax or plastic coating that harms human health and contaminates the recycling process. These products are sometimes dyed to achieve a lighter color, which could also harm the health.
Most compostable disposables are free from dyes, plastic coating, and chemicals that could harm the health or cause pollution. Since these products are not chemically treated, they can be added into the compost or buried into the ground without contaminating the compost or soil. The nutrients from compostable disposables also enrich the soil, promoting plant growth and better plant health.
If you want to minimize unnecessary trash that ends up in landfills, you have to be mindful of the kind of products you use. By learning what happens to discarded materials, you can make a better choice for your party or entertaining needs. As you can see, biodegradable products are not created equally; some are easier to process than others. Some degradable products (like Oxo-degradable plastics) are not as eco-friendly as we are made to believe and it pays to keep yourself informed to make a better choice.
ECO Homeware’s range of compostable disposables is completely backyard compostable as well as 100% chemical, and dye free. In addition, these plates are completely wax-free and they are not coated with plastic films that make recycling more complicated and costly. These wooden plates are made from renewable raw materials and they come in a variety of sizes and styles to choose from. Shop our collection here.